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The Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Could such tiny, little ancient seeds really pack as much power as they are said to? They have been touted as a superfood and a magical seed that carries a long list of health benefits. But where did the chia seed begin? How can they be used in your diet? And are they really as healthy as they claim to be? Let’s dive in and find out! 

Chia seeds actually come from a desert plant called salvia hispanica, which is a member of the mint family. Although they don’t taste or smell anything like mint, they were known as a staple of the ancient Aztec and Mayan diets. They originate from Central America -hence the Spanish name and Aztec connection. The word chia actually means strength, and according to legends, the ancient cultures used chia as energy boosters during endurance competitions and battles. This is why chia is a favorite amongst runners. The Native Americans would use chia to help them keep up their endurance over long distances. It has even been said that one spoonful of chia can sustain a runner for twenty-four hours. 

When unprocessed, they are a whole grain food that is absorbed by the body as seeds. Because of all this, they have also been said to provide many health benefits to the body. 

Chia seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and can be added to almost any food, beverage or recipe. Sprinkled over cereal, yogurt, or in sauces and soups. Added to smoothies, baked goods, or over vegetables. The options are endless! Chia seeds can even be added to water to make a gel. 

Superfoods are very popular options amongst the health-conscious, and there are many to choose from. They don’t all have the same benefits, though. That’s why it’s essential to mix up your superfoods and aim for a wide variety. 

How does this relate to chia? 

There are four main reasons why chia seeds are a superfood.

  • Antioxidants
  • Plant-based Omega 3
  • Plant-based Protein
  • Fiber 

Antioxidants

Chia seeds are filled with different kinds of phytochemicals. Each phytochemical has unique benefits. Some include things like myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. All of which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. 

Plant-Based Omega 3

Chia seeds are known for their high levels of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids are crucial to the body’s wellness because it is not something that the human body makes itself. It must be ingested from an outside source. The fatty acids become part of the cell membranes that, in turn, play an essential role in the health of our heart, cellular, and artery walls. Up to sixty percent of all oil found in chia seeds is found in the omega-3’s. 

Plant-Based Protein

Chia seeds are what is known as a complete protein. This means that they contain all nine essential amino acids. This is very rare for a plant-based protein to have, but obviously why they can be called a superfood! 

Fiber

Fiber is also essential for the body, and chia seeds have about 37% fiber in them. Approximately 20% is soluble fiber, and the other 80% is insoluble fiber. Both kinds are needed to have a healthy digestive tract, good heart health, and blood-sugar control. A great thing about the gel-forming aspect and the fiber in chia seeds is that it slows down the carb to sugar digestion. This stabilizes blood sugar, reduces cravings, helps with satiety, and provides a slow-burning release of energy instead of a quick high followed by the more common crash. 

What is the best way to eat chia seeds?

It is best to soak chia seeds to “sprout” them and break down “enzyme inhibitors” that protect the seed. First of all, this makes it much easier to digest. Secondly, the body can then access the dense nutrients from inside the seeds. This can and should be done before adding the chia to food. 

Chia seeds can be eaten raw or prepared in various dishes. They are very absorbent and form a gel-like substance when mixed into liquids. And it’s not only the seeds that can be eaten. The sprouts are also edible! 

Can chia seeds help with weight loss?

The idea behind chia and weight loss is simple. Because they expand with liquid and, therefore, in your stomach after ingesting them, they are supposed to fill you up so that you eat less and lose weight. 

There is more to good health than just weight loss, though. So what other benefits are there?

  • Lots of nutrients but very few calories
  • Loaded with antioxidants
  • Almost all their carbs are actually fiber
  • High-quality protein
  • Aid in weight loss
  • High in Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Lowers risks of heart disease
  • High in bone nutrients
  • Low in calories
  • Reduce blood sugars
  • Reduce chronic inflammation 

Let’s look into these benefits in greater detail. 

  • Lots of nutrients but very few calories

    Over the years, chia seeds have grown in popularity, mostly because they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and carbohydrates. As well, they provide approximately ten grams of fiber per ounce -which is equivalent to two tablespoons. Chia seeds also contain protein and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. 

    Just how much of each? 

    • Fiber: 11 grams.
    • Protein: 4 grams.
    • Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are omega-3s).
    • They also contain a good amount of zinc, vitamin B3 (niacin), potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamine), and vitamin B2. 

    As well, chia seeds are a whole-grain food, usually grown organically. Plus, they’re non-GMO, gluten-free, and of course, vegan. 

    • Loaded with antioxidants

      Chia seeds are also very high in antioxidants. It is these antioxidants that protect the fats in the seeds from going rancid. And in turn will protect the body from free radicals, which is a very positive health benefit. Important because if left alone, free radicals damage cell molecules and are the most significant contributors to gaining and disease. 

      • Almost all their carbs are actually fiber

        For every ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds, there are twelve grams of carbs. Eleven of those twelve are fiber, which the body doesn’t digest. Fiber doesn’t raise the blood sugar, and although it belongs to the carbohydrate family, its health effects are very different from more digestible carbs like starches and sugars. Their carb content in 28 grams of chia is very low. One gram per 28, Thus, making chia seeds a very low-carb food choice. 

        As well, because of the very high soluble fiber content, chia seeds can absorb 10-12 times their weight in water. They expand in the stomach and create more satiety as well as feeding the friendly gut bacteria. 

        • High-quality protein

          Chia seeds are actually a very high-quality protein source. They are a great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians as well as omnivores. As compared to other plants, they are high in protein because they are valued at 14%protein. Chia seeds also have lots of essential amino acids. Due to all this, they are great for weight loss as well. 

          • Aid in weight loss

            Because of their high fiber and protein contents, chia seeds are helpful when trying to lose weight. They have a soluble fiber called glucomannan, which leads to weight loss. Not to mention how the protein in them helps to reduce appetite and cravings. But one cannot eat masses of chia seeds alone and expect results. Weight loss is a combination of healthy eating, exercise, and good lifestyle habits. Add chia seeds to an already healthy plan, and results will follow. 

            • High in Omega 3 fatty acids

              Chia seeds are very high in omega 3-fatty acids, just like flaxseeds. Many people don’t believe it, but chia seeds actually have more omega-3s than salmon on a gram per gram basis. 

              • Lowers risks of heart disease

                Because chia seeds are high in fiber, protein, and omega-3’s, they have the potential to reduce the chances of heart disease. They have this ability because chia seeds have been shown to lower blood pressure, which is one of the highest risk factors for heart disease. 

                • High in bone nutrients

                  Chia seeds are essential in bone health. This is because they contain calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and protein. Gram for gram, their numbers are actually higher than in dairy products. This is excellent news for vegetarians and vegans. 

                  • Low in calories

                    With all these health benefits, chia seeds are already killing it on the “good for you” scale but add to all this that they are low in calories as well, and you really have a winner. 

                    • Reduce blood sugars

                      Chia has been proven to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control by stabilizing blood sugar levels after meals. 

                      • Reduce Chronic Inflammation

                        Inflammation is the body’s response to infection or injury. Although inflammation helps the body to heal, fight off bacteria, if it is chronic, it can be associated with bigger diseases. Healthy foods like chia seeds reduce chronic inflammation. 

                        Chia Seeds and All the Ways They Can Be Incorporated into Your Diet 

                        Chia seeds are actually very easy to incorporate into any diet. They don’t require much in terms of preparation, they have a mild nutty taste that many people actually find bland, in fact, they may just be the most versatile seed around! Unlike flaxseeds, chia seeds do not need to be ground, which really adds to their ease of use. 

                        It is as simple as buying a bag of chia seeds at the grocery store and proceeding to sprinkle them on top of your food. 

                        Breakfast Options for Chia Seeds

                        Sprinkled over cold cereal, oatmeal, or peanut butter toast.

                        Soaked in juice, added to smoothies or even baked into muffins, banana bread or homemade bread and bagels. 

                        Lunch or Dinner Options for Chia Seeds

                        Sprinkled over steamed vegetables or stir fry dishes.

                        Added to soups and stews.

                        Used as a topping for salads

                        And because chia seeds can absorb fat and water, they can be used to thicken sauces or as egg substitutes. 

                        Considering the health benefits of chia seeds and the ease with which they can be incorporated into your diet, there’s really no reason not to start consuming them today! 

                        Source: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/chia-seeds/ 

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